Herewith my lessons learned, tips and hints the next time you plan your ferry flight through Africa.

I had previously completed a ferry flight from Europe to West Africa, but this trip would be very different. 

I had heard so much about ferry flying through Africa from a number of flying friends, that this was an opportunity not to be missed.

My role for the trip was that of a ‘safety pilot’ and reporting to operations, the owner, and off-coarse, photographing the adventure (but this was more for in-house purposes).

The Ferry Flight started in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where we would fly the client’s Airbus AS350B3, single-engine light utility helicopter all the way down to Lubumbashi, which is located in the most southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This off-course does sound like the run of the mill flight that will take about a week to complete, but little did we know that this ferry flight will be testing for all involved.

Our story begins in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where the Captain collected the helicopter and flew to Accra, Ghana. This is where I met him and we would continue the next day flying the coast of Africa routing Lagos (Nigeria), Calabar (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Franceville (Gabon), Kinshasa (DRC) – and there we go, we will fly all the way down to Lubumbashi. 

Like I said – easy.

We forgot one thing, this is Africa and this is Aviation, nothing is easy. But hey, challenged accepted and off we went.

Our first overnight stop was in Calabar, Nigeria. Excellent choice for a stop, it is not a busy airport compared to Lagos which was chaotic. Tower and ground staff were friendly and helpful, the taxi arranged by the hotel was on time to collect us, the driver made a stop along the route in order for us to buy some water and food for the next day’s flight. The next day we were on our way to Libreville, Gabon.

And man oh man, what a trip! Words are not enough to describe the beautiful coastline and scenery that Africa has to offer, we were spoiled all the way! Allot of people ask me to explain it, but it is difficult to explain as it is continuing of jungle and water for miles and miles, your mind struggles to comprehend the vast amount of land with nothing – no civilization.

The following night was spent in Libreville, Libreville is off course one of my favorite cities in Africa. The seafront boulevard is lined with expensive hotels and stores, while the Louis quarter is known for its stylish clubs, restaurants and bars. Pointe Denis, accessible by a short boat ride, is a resort island with some of the area's best beaches and the Sibang Arboretum, just outside the city, showcases the country's unique flora. This is a must-see city!

From there we continued the following day to Franceville, now this is where the fun and games began and we started earning our money.

From the start of the trip we struggled with clearances for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this was during the time that the country was politically unstable and they didn’t issue entry permits for any foreign registered aircraft.

Reaching Franceville we received news that we could not continue our trip any further to Kinshasa. Back then, Franceville was a one-horse town with only one hotel that could accommodate us for one evening. The following evening was spent in the Helicopter where I came up with this wonderful idea that we would continue our trip to Brazzaville, we would then catch the daily ferry boat into Kinshasa and go to the aviation authority to try and resolve the issue (yes, I did believe I was superwoman, unbreakable and unstoppable).

Upon reaching Brazzaville we were strongly advised by South African crew that we met, not to continue and to rather alter our route back along the coast to try and enter Lubumbashi from the South through the Zambia border.

After two evenings spent in wonderful Brazzaville (another one of my favorite African cities), we were on our way, flying back to Pointe Noire to continue our route along the coast to Lusaka, Benguela, heading inland routing Lubango to our overnight destination, Ondangwa in Namibia. From Ondangwa, we continued the following day routing east towards Rundu and then on to Livingstone.

Once again, we were spoiled with the most amazing scenery and desert elephants!

In Livingstone, we changed crew and I continued the journey north with the relief pilot. The helicopter stood in Ndola for an additional two weeks before receiving authorization to fly into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

So yes, this was a fun and exciting trip, full of memorable moments, challenges and experiences that I now am privileged enough to share with the younger generation of helicopter pilots.

So, without further ado, herewith my lessons learned, tips and hints the next time you plan your ferry flight:

PREPARATIONS

Planning, planning, planning. Talk to everyone you can think of before embarking on a long ferry flight. Instructors, ferry pilots, commercial pilots, charter pilots – anyone. Pick their brains, ask about routes, weather, problems that they experienced etc. Thorough preparations are the key to a successful flight, and time spent in preparation is an investment that will bear fruit throughout the flight.

MAPS AND AIRPORT PLATES

Make sure that you have both electronic including hard copies of the appropriate airport plates available including both VFR and IFR maps. When discussing with your fellow aviators who have flown the same route, ask them for reporting points, typical airport parking bays etc. This will assist your preparation and ensure that you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed and over worked during an already stressful situation.

CLEARANCES

There are a number of clearance companies available in South Africa, they are all brilliant! Review a couple of companies, contact them and request quotations before making your final decision. Also ask their advice of where airport handling will be required. A lot of these airports are so small that a handler will not be necessary, where at airports for example like Accra, Lagos, Luanda etc. you cannot live without handlers. I believe that a fuel release is a must! It will assist you in managing your cash flow having your fuel pre-cleared and paid for. Start collecting overflight and landing clearances as early as possible, it always takes longer than you would think.

TRAVEL KIT

I cannot stress how important it is to have a travel kit with the appropriate gear available on a ferry flight, gear should typically include: additional GPS, batteries, survival equipment, sleeping bag and pillow, mosquito repellent, medical kit (including all the basic medicines e.g anti-diarrhea medication, laxative, antacids, antihistamine, pain relievers, ibuprofen and aspirin, personal medications that don't need refrigeration) and dry snacks and water - lots of water.

MONEY

The best currency when travelling through Africa is the US Dollar. Make sure that you carry assorted bills, including small bills as they never have small change available at airports, shops etc. The safest way to carry your money is in a flat money belt that you can wear under your clothes. Also separate the bills with your fellow crew and hide some away in the helicopter (be creative). Keep the money that you plan to spend that day in a pocket or moneybag that is visible. It's much handier than grabbing under your clothes, and it's also a useful decoy if you get robbed.

PASSPORTS

Your passport must remain on you at all times. Do not give it to anyone, don’t let it lie unattended! That is your only ticket back home.

Once again, I loved sharing my story and experience with you and hope that you could learn from my tips and hints, and that these will assist you during your next ferry flight.

And remember - follow our innovative empty leg model, your ferry flight dream is closer than what you think!

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